Just What Would it Take to Get Park Morton Moving?

Empty units at Park Morton.

Empty units at Park Morton.

That Park Morton continues to remain in a comatose state is a source of frustration for many people I’ve spoken with.  The chief problem — based on what I’ve been able to piece together from those associated with the project — is land. There is not enough land from the original property to do everything the District expects from the Park Morton new community. Building The Avenue was a great help, but even it wasn’t enough.

While it was announced in March that a land deal had been consummated which united the Georgia Avenue frontage with the project behind it … that announcement was premature and the deal never materialized. Furthermore, though several of the buildings at Park Morton are currently empty, the commitment from the City to not lose a single unit of public housing in the redevelopment of Park Morton — and that that housing must remain in Ward 1 — means that it is unimportant whether Park Morton is full or empty. The number of housing units are dictating the scale of the project.

This has resulted in a bit of a scramble to find available property (in fact, any property) nearby that can be added to the project so that it can get back on track. However, there are two factors that seem to have not been seriously considered.

  1. Just because the current level of public housing at Park Morton needs to remain in Ward 1, there is nothing that means it has to abut the Park Morton property or even be located on Georgia Avenue; and,
  2. There is one large parcel of District owned land nearby that could actually solve this problem if it were part of a much larger master plan to enhance the entire community.

Permit me to think outside the box on  this one for a bit … and understand that all I’m doing is showing that there is a workable solution even if it might not be a solution that is adopted.

To the south is the large Bruce Monroe school site property. When Bruce Monroe was demolished, it was turned into a park rather than a parking lot based on community activism. It has always been intended to be a temporary park. A promised building to support the playground has never materialized. But, what if the property were divided with the Georgia Avenue frontage being developed for housing, retail, and a public facility supporting the park? The original Monroe School portion of the property could continue to be a permanent park. If this was done as a component of the Park Morton redevelopment, it would definitely be enough land to allow the project to move forward.

This detail from the 1968 Baist's Real Estate Atlas shows that the Georgia Avenue frontage of the Bruce Monroe Park site was originally private property with commercial buildings.

This detail from the 1968 Baist’s Real Estate Atlas shows that the Georgia Avenue frontage of the Bruce Monroe Park site was originally private property with commercial buildings.

Why would I propose having the Georgia Avenue frontage developed as such? … because it was originally private commercial property until the late 1960s when it was needed to build the Bruce Monroe School. By allowing it to revert to its original state we would increase housing, density, and vitality to that section of Georgia Avenue. We would also be able to justify making the section of the property that was originally the Monroe School a permanent park. And, because that park would be smaller, we could remove the unused parking lot that was built to support the park.

If this were an idea that was endorsed by the community, we could get the redevelopment of Park Morton moving now. But I also think the City would have to do one more thing to make this all work, and that would be to address the southeast corner of Park Road and Georgia Avenue.

It was hoped that the former used car lot at Park and Georgia — along with the other property between Morton and Park Road, would be incorporated into the Park Morton development. But, if land further away were pressed into service for that purpose, they wouldn’t be needed for housing (or at least not all of them).

If the Bruce Monroe Park became smaller to get Park Morton moving forward, it would make a lot of sense to me if the southeast corner of Park Road and Georgia were purchase by the District to create a civic plaza. Columbia Heights has a successful plaza and Petworth effectively has one at Georgia and Upshur. By creating one at Georgia and Park Road one creates a public gathering space in the heart of the Park View community. It would be a place where people could gather and possible use for a farmers market or flea market. This would also help create a more even distribution of public space in a neighborhood that has so very little of it to speak of.

The long and the short of it is this … the redevelopment of Park Morton needs to move forward and there are solutions if the City has the political will. While I’ve offered one solution, I’m sure there are others. But, allowing Park Morton to become increasingly vacant because the District doesn’t want to use the land it owns, or wants to embrace a solution that isn’t workable with the property it owns, is definitely not the answer.

The southeast corner of Georgia and Park Road is largely made up of an empty used car lot. The City could purchase the property to crease a civic plaza in the heart of Park View.

The southeast corner of Georgia and Park Road is largely made up of an empty used car lot. The City could purchase the property to create a civic plaza in the heart of Park View.

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23 Comments on “Just What Would it Take to Get Park Morton Moving?”

  1. mbk Says:

    Excellent summary Kent. You are 100% right that there is no political will to move this forward now. The Dep Mayor and DCHA are currently focused on redoing Barry Farm and Northwest One. The flaw is in trying to keep the same number of public housing units. The numbers just don’t work on site. I agree that the old Bruce Monroe site should be partially redeveloped. it was ALWAYS intended for development, the park was an interim use. And honestly, its not a very good park as its huge but has not formal programming. Not sure where to even start on this, but maybe a resolution from the ANC and then a meeting with DMPED might be a start. Not sure if Graham is going to provide much support on reducing the number of onsite replacement units though.

  2. PkView Says:

    Can someone more knowledgeable comment on the politics here? Why isn’t Graham pushing on this issue?

  3. Matt Says:

    But what changed? Is the idea of not losing a single public housing unit a new requirement for this project? It’s pretty pathetic that the administration thinks that they somehow get “credit” for maintaining public housing units even if they are vacant and uninhabitable. If I recall, the original plan was that current residents would move into buildings created in the first phase while the next few phases were being developed. Surely there is enough land for that. I thought that was the purpose of The Avenue, but evidently not.

    Anyway, thanks for looking into this, Kent. I think this is the most important story in Park View. When I first heard that this project was in the works more than eight years ago, even at my most cynical I never thought that Park Morton would still be in the same sad shape in 2013. Councilman Graham and the Gray Administration need to be held accountable for this failure.

  4. JS Says:

    Kent –

    What’s the maximum height allowed by zoning at Park Morton? If there’s not enough space under current zoning for all of the city’s wishes, why not just propose a variance and put some eight or ten story buildings on the site? It seems like that’s a quick way to allievate the purported space crunch.

    • K Says:

      If I’m not mistaken, a large idea behind the redevelopment was to replace the large complex with smaller mixed income units which have proven more effective in safer integrated communities. Building large units with all public housing would just put lipstick on the pig.
      I may be off and would like to hear others opinions though

      • Byron Says:

        I don’t think the problem with large public housing is density in and of itself. The critique of those projects is that they aren’t integrated into the fabric of an existing neighborhood.and were too set back from the street, creating pockets of unsafe and unmonitored areas that have no street life. Also that they were concentrated poverty in one area. If they’re mixed use and mixed income, that problem goes away too.

      • JS Says:

        K –

        I wasn’t clear in my earlier comment. If there’s not enough space for what the city wants under current zoning, why not upzone and build a few 8-10 story, 300-400 unit mixed income buildings with the subsidized units interspersed throughout the construction? A 12 story all low-income building is bad news, no doubt.

  5. PVR Says:

    As I’m starting to notice, we need to demonstrate a unified presence to show that the whole community is interested in getting this done. We must mobilize and show up in force to discuss issues with our elected officials and their appointees. A good example of this was at the recent crime meeting at the police substation on Park Road. With regards to crime, I feel confident in saying that the majority of the crime we’re experiencing is probably linked to the semi-abandoned housing project.

    We need to pester those accountable and make sure they hear and act on our demands.

    Kent, would you agree? Do you have suggestions on how we can put pressure on officials to speed this process up?

  6. Noah Says:

    Bravo, Kent, you’re really thinking here. One question, though, with the idea of a public plaza at Park and Georgia.

    A major reason the Columbia Heights plaza works well is because it’s in a lively spot, surrounded by retail shops and big residential buildings. Being a block from the Metro doesn’t hurt either. By contrast, as it stands now, the Georgia and Park location is surrounded by a gas station, a bank, and a lot of small shops that have seen better days. There isn’t really very much to draw people to that intersection.

    As awesome as it would be to have a central gathering spot for the community, I’m not sure it would succeed unless the area around it is developed in a major way. New residential buildings at Park Morton might not be enough/

  7. K Says:

    Thank you Kent and I agree with the sentiments of a unified community voice needed to get this moving. The longer Park-Morton stays in this state, the longer drug dealers and criminals operate out of abandoned units (I saw some alleged ones peek out of one yesterday behind a board).

  8. Lisa Galiber Says:

    Kent – Thank you for this update and for outlining a thoughtful alternative. I too am interested in organizing to pressure officials regarding this issue. I will continue to track this site to see if and how efforts to unify progress. I definitely want to participate.

  9. mbk Says:

    Kent, anymore thought to a Park View Task Force (since the GA Avenue one isnt going to advocate for us)? .This would be just to focus on land use and development issues. Between Park Morton, opportunity sites on GA Ave, McMillan impacts and potentially the lower portion of Soldiers Home, there are serious development considerations we need to lobby for.

  10. Ari Says:

    Any chance of reviving the deal for the land on the corner?

    As for the Bruce-Monroe Park location, as someone who lives across the street from the park, I would support mixed-use mixed-income development along GA ave as long as it would also include a permanent park.

    My preference, though, would be to make it work at GA and Park – like you said, something needs to be done with that spot, and for the reasons Noah mentions, I don’t think a plaza would work.

  11. Keefer is king Says:

    Jim Graham is a crook who doesn’t care about this neighborhood. The only hope is that he’ll pay a little more attention since he’s up for reelection.

  12. Park-what? Says:

    There’s plenty of space to build in Ward 8 or Prince George’s County. Let them eat cake!

    • Jay Says:

      Am I missing something? Humor? From Wikipedia: ” “Let them eat cake” is the traditional translation of the French phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”, supposedly spoken by “a great princess” upon learning that the peasants had no bread. Since brioche was made from dough enriched with butter and eggs, and those ingredients were even more scarce and more costly than dough, making brioche even more out of the reach of the peasants than bread, the quote supposedly would reflect the princess’s obliviousness as to the condition of the people.”

  13. […] the properties on Georgia Avenue between Park Road and Morton Street never materialized leaving the development in a state of limbo. The failure to redevelop Park Morton may also be one of the reasons for the delay in Neighborhood […]

  14. […] the hurdles to Park Morton’s redevelopment was the need for more land. I addressed this in a Post on November 1, 2013, urging the District to be more creative in identifying sites throughout Ward 1 — including […]

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  16. […] have been many ideas over the years on what the future of the parcel could hold, including an idea I floated in November 2013 to use part of the land to help get the Park Morton redevelopment […]

  17. […] Morton, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t support the proposal as it is very similar to a plan I first proposed in November 2013 — a position I came to support after several meetings with Landex and an acute understanding […]

  18. […] 2015. NCI’s selection of the temporary park at Georgia and Irving is not surprising. I came to a similar conclusion in November 2013 after my meetings with Landex earlier that […]

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